The Dirt on Cultural Resources

Lithic scatter at Pine Creek

Throughout the Columbia Basin are many sites like this one at Pine Creek where lithic scatter–the remains of stone tool production and other cultural artifacts–can be found on the surface. Photo: Lee Stilson/DNR.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages more than 3 million acres of trust land and 2.6 million acres of aquatic lands throughout the state. These properties are located in a variety of landscapes—upland, forested, riverine, estuarine, and many more—that have been used by people for generations. Overseeing the surveying, documenting, and recording of cultural resources on trust and aquatic lands are two State Lands Archaeologists assisted by approximately 50 DNR employees trained as cultural resources technicians.

What are cultural resources and why is it important to identify them? Cultural resources include archaeological and historic sites, artifacts, traditional sites, and objects used by Native Americans. Examples of cultural resources include graves, cave or rock shelters, culturally modified trees, tools, shells, shipwrecks, bones, weapons, etc. Historical sites or artifacts also can include old farm equipment and outbuildings, corrals and holding pens, logging camps, tools, and trails. These sites and artifacts are found throughout our state, both above and below ground, and above and below water level. Because some cultural resources and sites date back thousands of years and may be invisible to the unknowing eye, it’s important to identify them so they can be preserved and studied. Undisturbed sites are especially important because they may yield information to archaeologists on past land-use practices and the impact they made on the local landscape and the people who lived there.

Tieton structure

Tieton structure that is a cultural resource. Photo: Lee Stilson/DNR.

It is vital, both ethically and legally, that DNR identify cultural resources on state trust and aquatic lands. This obligation includes developing plans, where necessary, to maintain site integrity because disturbance may cause damage, either intentional or unintentional, that can render a site’s hidden information useless.

A key player in protecting these important sites and artifacts of present and past cultures is the recreational user. We urge everyone who recreates on trust land to report any cultural resources they discover to DNR. Please contact any of our region offices for assistance; the local land manager for the area in which you have identified cultural resources also will be happy to help.

Tim Kopf
Goldendale Unit Land Manager, Washington State DNR Southeast Region